Radiography is a relatively young profession that started with W.C. Röntgen’s discovery of X-rays in 1895. The profession has greatly evolved over a short span of years, with knowledge about x-rays contributing to the use of different radiographic techniques, design and development of new technologies, image interpretation, and patient care, amongst others.
For the radiography profession to move forward, and maintain high radiographic standards, it must contribute to its body of knowledge by engaging in research. The future of the radiography profession is based on research and evidence-based practice. Research is the systematic investigation or inquiry for the acquisition of knowledge, where the ultimate goal of the research is to develop and expand this body of knowledge.
Radiographers are increasing their role in actively performing research to keep abreast with the changes occurring at a fast pace in medical imaging and radiotherapy, such as developments in digital imaging, patient administration systems, the introduction of hybrid imaging, and the use of artificial intelligence. Radiographers are the link between technology and the patient.
Radiographers cannot just shadow technical developments but must be proactive and conduct their own research in healthcare and technology and include the perspective of the patient. This implies a role transition from a clinical radiographer to one being a researcher.
The aim of this article is to provide an overview of the research processes. The research process outlines the steps required from generating the initial idea to disseminating the final outcome or findings of the research.
The research process
The way research is conducted depends on the methodology to be used in answering the research question. The type of research will then follow a particular model or paradigm. The main models are referred to as the Naturalistic (qualitative) or Positive (quantitative) models, or a mixed model (including both qualitative and quantitative) approach.
Focusing more on a quantitative approach to research, this follows a tight process before commencing of data collection. The steps involved in a quantitative research design include the following:
The first step of the research process is to think (or conceptualise) the area of study. Reviewing existing literature on the subject area helps in identifying gaps in the knowledge that lead to the development of the research question. The review of the literature together with undertaking clinical fieldwork assist in the definition of conceptual definitions and formulation of hypothesis for the research to be undertaken.
The design and planning phase
Once the research question or hypothesis is formulated, the next step is the selection of the appropriate research design to address and achieve the research aims. The target and accessible population are identified from which a sample is selected. For this purpose, a sampling plan is designed to select a sample that is representative of the population for which the findings of the study are to be generalised.
Data collection protocols are developed, which will be followed for data collection. These include specific methods used to measure the variables being studied. In the case of human participants, ethical issues are to be considered. Once the method of data collection is agreed upon, it is put on trial during a pilot study. The pilot study tests the feasibility of the method and provides an opportunity to highlight any issues that are addressed prior to the main data collection process.
The empirical phase
For the empirical phase or data collection, the data collection tools are developed and tested for validity and reliability. Validity refers to the accuracy of a measure, and whether the tools really collect the data that they are supposed to collect. While reliability refers to the consistency of the data collected, and whether the results obtained from the data can be reproduced under the same conditions.
The analytical phase
The data is prepared and organised for data analysis. Appropriate statistical tests are selected based on the type of data, in the case of quantitative data or thematic analysis in the case of qualitative data.
It is important that the results of the data analysis are correctly interpreted, and comparisons made to findings from similar research.
The dissemination phase
The research is not complete unless the results of the research are communicated with others so that the findings can be implemented as recommended. Research is useless if findings are not shared and implemented.
Research findings, to be effective, require dissemination to be used in practice. Translating research findings and other evidence-based practices into routine practice is essential to improve the quality and effectiveness of radiographic services.
References available on request
Francis Zarb is the Associate Professor at the Department of Radiography, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Malta.
This article appears in the latest issue of Omnia Health Magazine. Read the full issue online today.